Nothing but the Truth
These first six verses of Second Corinthians, Chapter 4, will answer a lot of questions as to why so many people do not believe the gospel when they first hear it, or even after they have heard it over a long period of time. They will answer questions about why many who do believe the gospel quit after they have been walking in the Christian way for some time; and also questions about why some people whom you think will never believe it, suddenly do so. The passage begins with a tremendous declaration by the Apostle Paul, about his reaction to his own ministry:
Therefore, having this ministry [the word means "this kind of a ministry"] by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians RSV)
All through this passage he has repeated that theme -- "We do not get discouraged"; "we do not feel like quitting"; "we are confident"; "we are encouraged." Again and again you will find that note dominant throughout the passage. I run into a lot of Christians who are getting discouraged today. Just recently, in our leadership seminar, we had a pastor, who came to us from a church in a different locality, who told us that a few years ago he assessed his ministry. He said he looked about him at what was regarded as a successful church. He had a good attendance; the financial situation was clear; and yet he said that every morning he felt a severe sense of failure and emptiness in what he was doing. Increasingly he felt that he was going through religious motions, that he was accomplishing nothing of any real and lasting value. He told us that so intense and deep was his depression that if it had not been for the shame he would have brought upon his family he would have taken his own life.
I find a lot of men in the ministry who are like that. Now, in a sense, as we have seen throughout this letter, every Christian is "in the ministry." I find many Christians who are ready to quit, feeling that they are not achieving anything. But when you talk with them you discover that, basically, they do not see themselves as Paul did, as being the instrument of God at work. They are focusing on what they are doing for God, or, as they feel at the moment, what they are not doing for God. They do not seem to understand the basis for this ministry that Paul speaks of which he calls the "new covenant," the new arrangement for living, which God has provided in Christ.
In these next two verses the apostle gives us two great reasons why the new covenant does not allow for discouragement. If you have struggled with this, I suggest you take this very seriously and think through why you feel so discouraged at times. Do you understand this great principle which keeps Paul from ever being discouraged, despite the many obstacles he ran up against? Here is his first reason, found in the first half of verse 2:
We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word. (2 Corinthians a RSV)
He says, "We have turned our backs on the ways and practices that bring discouragement." That is why he did not get discouraged. I am always amazed at how up-to-date the Scriptures seem. You would think that Paul had just been listening to some Christian radio broadcasts, or television programs, when he wrote this. Evidently there were people in his day, preaching in churches and evangelizing, who were practicing disgraceful, underhanded ways. They were relying on cunning approaches and even tampering with the Word of God. Paul says, "I have given all that up," (if he ever did it). "Seeing other people do this, I want nothing to do with it."
Notice particularly what this consists of, because this speaks to our own time. First, he says, "I have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways," that is, the practice of deliberate deceit. Every now and then an article appears in the religious papers about some evangelist who hires converts to stand up in his meetings and confess Christ, or to come down front and give a testimony to being healed, in order to make the evangelist look like a success. That is deceitful.
You read of Sunday Schools that bait and bribe people to come to church. Not long ago there was a report in the local papers of a pastor in San Jose who said that, if he got a certain number of people out to Sunday School, he would preach from his church belfry. He got the number he wanted so he went up in the belfry and preached his sermon. That is simply a form of bribery, getting people to come for some secondary, superficial reason. I know of Sunday Schools that give kids candy if they will get aboard their buses and come to Sunday School. Some even offer prizes, bicycles, etc., in order to get kids out. That is to gain an appearance of success by relying upon wrong methods, deceitful things, disgraceful, underhanded ways. I have met preachers who have phony degrees, obtained for $10 or so sent to some diploma mill somewhere. They put those letters after their name to impress people that they know something they do not really know. That is deceit. I know of missionaries who send reports home to their supporting churches about things that have no basis whatever in fact in their ministry. They tell of things that never occurred, reporting achievements in the preaching of the gospel that never really happened, deliberately lying in the name of Christ. I know of Christians who tell someone else's experience as though it happened to them, and thus they lie in the name of Jesus.
But Paul says, "I don't need any of those things anymore." Anyone who relies on that type of thing will gain an appearance of success, but sooner or later the bottom will fall out and they will be left with intense feelings of depression and failure and folly. Paul says he refuses to practice cunning. Now what does that mean? Well, it means to rely on some psychological trick played on people to get them to respond, some intense pressure tactic in a meeting, perhaps beautiful seductive music to get them to give way, telling stories that bring tears to people's eyes, playing upon their emotions, this kind of thing. Paul says, 'We don't need any of this any longer. We don't rely upon that."
In our day it is largely a matter of going in for Christian showmanship, seeing who can put on the biggest spectacle to attract people to come in by hiring a special band or getting trapeze artists to come and put on a show, etc., Paul says we do not rely on those kinds of things anymore. Nor does he tamper with God's word. Can you imagine anybody in the name of Jesus tampering with God's word? Yet it happens all the time. Peter speaks of those who "twist the Scriptures." In 2 Peter there is his reference to Paul's letters where he says: "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." It is not difficult to do that. You can take a great biblical word and give it another meaning, and using the same language, talk about something else entirely: The word "resurrection" is disemboweled of its biblical content and made to mean something that it does not mean in the Bible. The word "Christ" is made to stand for a person or a being who does not exist in Scripture at all. Yet people who hear you use that kind of language are fooled. That is twisting the Word of God; and it happens all the time in our day. You find people who infer that the Bible is inferior to the discoveries of modern knowledge -- present day scientific discoveries have proved it wrong, therefore, it is not to be trusted. This is tampering with the Word of God, because nothing in the Bible has ever been proved wrong by scientific discovery. But the most common way of twisting the Scriptures is to resort to what is called "proof-texting." This is coming to the Bible with an idea of something you want to teach and then going through it, picking out a few isolated passages here and there that sound like what you wanted to say, and listing these so that when people hear you, they say, "Well, that is biblically supported; he's got the Bible for that." Every Christian cult that has ever existed has done that. But unfortunately there are a number of widely respected Christian spokesmen, for the most part very earnest and godly men, who still do this very thing. Perhaps they are unconscious of what they are doing. They are taking part of the Scripture and supporting what they say. That is called "proof texting." It is "tampering" with the Word of God; and many people are being misled today by that kind of approach.
Paul says, "I don't need that anymore. I don't rely upon those kind of things. In fact, I've renounced all this; I have given it all up. I refuse to practice psychological cunning on people or to tamper with the Word of God." What does he do? Well, he tells us:
by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians b RSV)
That is why Paul does not get discouraged. He does not have to think through some new gimmick which will get people out to hear the good news. He knows that truth is the most exciting and attractive thing in the world. He knows that when you come to people with the truth about themselves, about their lives, about the world in which they live, when you strip off all the veils of illusion and the delusions by which man in any generation lives and reveal the basic reality of what is there, then you get instant attention.
The test of any religion is not whether people like it or whether it is comfortable or whether it makes them feel good. The test, of course, is always, "Is it true? Does it fit reality? Does it explain what is going on in such a way that it conforms with the basic experience of every single individual?" The great thing about the good news is that it is the truth of God; it is revealing of the underlying reality of life. When you are talking about the Word of God you are talking about the way things really are.
Ron Ritchie and I have had the privilege in recent weeks of going to a number of college and seminary campuses and speaking, by and large, to Christian young people. Yet in many of these places we found that they really do not think of the Bible as being a revelation of reality. They think of it as some kind of religious flavoring to life, a kind of a low calorie dessert which, if you like that sort of thing, is nice, but if you do not, you do not really need it. They think that the real insights into life are out in the secular world. In every one of those campuses we have had the privilege of opening up the book and beginning to teach them what it says in language that perhaps is fresh to them, but that reveals what the Word of God is saying. And every time we have gotten an instant reaction of fascinated interest. They sit quietly and listen as though they had never heard it before. They suddenly realize you are talking about them, about their sexuality and what it means, about marriage and how it operates, about how to handle the awful load of guilt, and what to do with fear and anxiety when it ties your stomach in knots.
That is reality. That is what Paul is talking about. "The open statement of the truth" has fascinating power to attract people. It did when Jesus proclaimed it. Everywhere he went the multitudes hung on what he said, and yet they wondered. They said to themselves, "He doesn't do it like the Pharisees and the Scribes do, quoting all those authorities, etc. Yet what he says rings a bell within us. Something inside says, 'That is right'." That was the universal reaction to the preaching of Jesus, because that is the truth as it is in Jesus. Now that is what Paul proclaimed. He said, "When you've got that you don't need any gimmicks; you don't need any buildup; you don't need to bribe people and trick them to get them to come because they are expecting something else. Just take the wraps off what God has given and they will be tremendously attracted to it."
Furthermore, he says, "It speaks to the conscience, and not merely to the mind." Now I do not want you to misunderstand. Truth is addressed to the mind. God never sets aside human reason. He addresses truth to be considered and weighed and evaluated by the mind. But behind that is the conscience, and a man's conscience can sometimes reach him when his mind is rejecting truth. Isn't that strange? Paul knew that. He said we should not argue with people. That is why he warns Christians, "Don't get yourself involved in long controversies over words. They will get you nowhere," (2 Timothy ). "Don't get tied up with arguments, because you can't reach people that way. Tell them the truth. Depend on the fact that there is a voice inside them which God put there called 'the conscience,' that even when their minds reject what you say will keep saying to them, 'Ah, yes, but he is right, isn't he?' Sooner or later it will reach them."
C. S. Lewis, the great English defender of the faith, said that when he became a Christian he did so as an intellectual agnostic. He said when he came to Christ he came as though he were dragged, kicking and screaming, darting his eyes around in every direction, trying to escape. His mind was fighting it all the way, but his conscience had succumbed to the Word of God. He said that the night he came to Christ he was the most reluctant convert in all of England. But he came, and he became one of the greatest defenders of the faith that the Christian gospel has ever had, outside of the Apostle Paul. Well, that was because his conscience was reached. Paul says, "That's what I count on. I don't have to depend on me and my personality and my ability to persuade people. I go with a simple statement of the truth, and the conviction that God is able to reach the conscience even though the mind and the emotions may reject what I have to say." Well, you say, "If that is the case, then why don't more people believe this gospel?" That is the question they evidently asked Paul, which he is facing here at this point, because he goes on to say:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. (2 Corinthians RSV)
I want you to be careful how you read this because it is often misread. Some of the commentators I read on this passage put it this way: Paul is responding to the question, "Why are people perishing?" and his answer is, "Because they are blinded by the devil." And then he asks, in effect, "Why are they blinded by the devil?" and his answer is, "Because they won't believe."
That is the way it is often misunderstood. It means, if you take it that way, that the basic reason for people being lost is because they refuse to believe, and that is what gives the devil an opportunity to blind them. But that is not what Paul says. It is the other way around: People are perishing because they do not believe; and they do not believe because they are blinded by the devil. That is what he is saying. The god of this age, the god behind the scenes of world events, the god whom the world unconsciously worships and pays allegiance to in everything they think and say and do has brainwashed them. Therefore, they cannot understand what the good news is saying; they do not believe it.
This is a great, revealing passage. Paul says the devil's tool is the veil. The devil is responsible for the unbelief of men, and men and women are helpless victims in the hands of the god of this age. That veil is the delusion that we are adequate to handle life by ourselves, that independent sense of pride that says, "I don't need any help; I can handle it by myself; I need no religious crutch; I don't need a savior." Put in the words of William Henley's famous poem, Invictus, it is saying:
"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
That is the veil that lies over the minds of people to keep them from seeing the death and condemnation that awaits at the end of the fading glory. The devil's purpose, Paul says here, is to keep men and women from seeing that Jesus Christ is the secret of being like God, of being godlike, " to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God."
One of the great proofs that the Bible knows what it is talking about in life is that it confirms that everywhere, all over the earth, in any generation, in any culture or background, men long to be like God. They want to be in charge; they want to run things; they want to make final decisions about what happens to them; they want to control others and the events of their lives and they are frustrated and challenged if they cannot. They long to be like God. There is nothing wrong with that. That is what God made us for. The very dignity of humanity is that it was the intent of God from the very beginning that here on this earth we would manifest his qualities and his character. He has implanted that in the hearts of men and women everywhere in the world.
But what is wrong is our prideful arrogance that assumes that we can do this by ourselves, by our own efforts, by our own power, by our own abilities. "We can run the universe. We don't need God." This is the lie, the veil, that the devil uses to brainwash human beings everywhere to keep them from seeing that the only way they will ever be godlike is through Jesus. He is the secret of godliness. That word is a shortened form of the word, "godlikeness." A godly person is a godlike person, reflecting the character of God. The great secret the devil seeks to hide is that Jesus Christ is the secret. Jesus said it: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father but by me," (John RSV).
So what hope is there that anybody who has been blinded by the devil will ever believe the good news? It looks hopeless, doesn't it? If a veil lies over their minds, and if, as we have already seen in the previous passage, only when someone turns to the Lord is the veil removed -- yet, in order to turn, men must see the glory of Christ that the veil obscures -- what hope is there? It is very evident from this that men cannot remove the veil themselves. Only Christ can take it away. How then can men be saved? That is the question Paul is facing. "Ah," he says, "that is where preaching comes in. That is why I have been sent." Verse 5:
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians RSV)
That is a fantastic statement. We must carefully examine what it is saying. Notice the points in it: First, the apostle says, "Don't look to us for any help. We don't come preaching ourselves. We ourselves can't do a thing for you." I was listening to a man on the radio the other day who was supposedly preaching the gospel. He closed his message by saying, "If you have faith in my prayers, then do such and such." That is not preaching Christ. That is preaching himself and that is a false gospel. You sometimes hear people say, "If you have faith in my ministry, do such and such" (especially, "send money"), but that is not preaching the gospel. Paul says, "We don't do that; what we preach is not ourselves. If you want to know where we fit in, here it is: we are your servants for Jesus' sake. We are not your masters; we do not own you; we are not your bosses; we do not come to tell you everything to do and give you orders and be a little pope in every church we come into. No, we are your servants. We have come to help you. We have come to minister to you, to labor among you, to teach and instruct you, but we are not here to boss you." The apostle is careful to make that plain.
On the other hand, he wants them to understand, "You are not our masters either. We do not come to do what you tell us to do. We are your servants for Christ's sake. It is he who tells us to be your servant. He is our Master and our Lord." And then he turns their eyes to the One who can help.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. (2 Corinthians a RSV)
That is the key. In the 1st century this was the fundamental declaration of the good news: Jesus is Lord. Not "he is going to be Lord some day when he returns," but he is Lord. When he rose from the dead he said to his own disciples, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth," (Matthew KJV). He is in control; he is in charge right now; he is running human history. All the events that occur in the world today occur because he has permitted them or has brought them into being. He is in charge; he is Lord, and the need of human hearts everywhere is to see that he is Lord. Here are two of several verses where it is very clear what the issue of salvation is:
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans (KJV)
if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord you will be saved. (Romans. (RSV))
That is the key. It is not Jesus as Savior. A lot of people are being told, "If you receive Jesus as your Savior, you will be saved." But nowhere in the Bible does it ever say that. He must be Lord. He is Lord whether you know it or not, whether you receive him or not.
But when you bow to that Lordship, when you know that he is Lord, and you consent to him exercising his Lordship in your life, then he saves you. Lord is who he is; saving is what he does. When you realize "you are not your own; you are bought with a price" (1 Corinthians ba RSV), and you agree to that, then he is not only your Lord, but he begins to deliver you, to save you from yourself and the world around. On the basis of Lordship, then, Paul goes on to say that the moment a person sees that Jesus is Lord, God's creative power begins to operate in his life and light comes into his darkness; the veil is removed. Notice how he puts it:
For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts (2 Corinthians a RSV)
He takes us back to creation, when the whole world lay in darkness. Nobody could do anything about it except God, who said, "Let there be light," (Genesis b). Suddenly, out of the darkness, light sprang up in obedience to the creative word of the living God.
That is what Paul says must happen before any man or woman ever becomes a Christian. God has to say again that creative word, "Let light shine out of darkness." When he does, the darkness disappears; the light shines into the heart, as Paul says it did in his on the Damascus road: "The light shone into the darkness of my deluded heart, and I saw that Jesus was Lord." He goes on to say that, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is, therefore, seen in the face of Christ." Many years ago a man came to see me in response to a contact made by one of our members here who worked at Lockheed. He had made friends with this man, a brilliant engineer with a tremendous mind, but a declared agnostic. They had talked many times, but he showed no openness at all to the gospel. After a while this engineer fell into a very severe depression which was so intense and so prolonged that eventually he was fired from his job. But that only increased his depression. He was so morose and so vegetable-like that his wife finally threatened to leave him, and his children all left home. He became so pathetic in his terrible depression that this Christian friend of his asked him if he would at least consent to come and talk with me.
So he showed up at my door, and told me his story. He was so depressed it was difficult for him to talk; he showed no sign of any hope at all. I asked him the usual questions about what he believed, but he did not believe anything. He did not believe there was a God; he did not believe in Christ; he did not believe the Bible; he did not believe Jesus ever lived. I could find no ground of faith at all. After trying to help him for an hour or two, I said to him, "I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do to help you. But I don't want to abandon you. I believe there is help for you. If you will come here every week I will meet with you and I will do two things for you. One, I'll read the Bible to you, and two, I'll pray for you. I don't know what will happen; that is all I can do, but if you are willing to do that I will do those two things." To my amazement he consented. He kept coming week after week. I would read a portion of scripture, and I would say to him, "Does that mean anything to you?" But he would say "No." Then I would pray for him, for his family, and for his home. By that time his wife had left him. He was living all alone in an apartment, unable to carry on at all, unable to work.
At least eight months went by, and we did that every week without fail. One day I said to him, "Isn't there anything I have read to you that means anything to you?" He replied, "Well, there is one thing. This morning I was thinking about it. You read the other day these words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, 'Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.' That suddenly meant something to me." Well, I didn't have the nerve to ask him what! It did not mean anything to me at that moment in relationship to him. But I said, "Mal, if that meant something to you, then let me ask you to do this: pray that prayer over and over again. Whenever you sense you need some help, when you are despairing, or whenever, pray that prayer." He said he would.
So a few more weeks went by. I read other passages and nothing clicked. Then one day I read something, and he said, "Oh, yes. That's good, isn't it?" We took note of that and I asked him to memorize it and say it over and over. Then a couple of weeks later he found something else, and gradually there came a dawning light into his heart. Truth began to he real to him; he began to understand it. We prayed week after week, and as this light began to dawn, it came on stronger and stronger. More and more of Scripture began to reach him, until the day came when he openly acknowledged that Jesus was Lord of his life and he surrendered to his will. Then he began to blossom and grow. He devoured the Word of God, he read it endlessly, hour after hour. That was fifteen years ago, and I still get letters from him. He lives in Florida now; he joined a Christian group there. His family never did come back to him, but his letters are the most exuberant radiant, and rejoicing of any I receive. He has nothing but praise and thanksgiving to the living God, the Creator himself, who took away the darkness by a creative word, a fiat, who said of his darkness, "Let there be light." Seizing on that one gleam of light, Jesus is Lord, he was transformed at last.
That is what God is saying to us in these words. Where do you find the light of the glory of God? In the face of Jesus Christ. And where do you find the face of Jesus? In the Scriptures. This book is all about Jesus. The Gospels give you the record of his amazing life on earth; the Epistles explain the implications of that life, his death and resurrection, and his working for us; the Old Testament is full of anticipations of his character and his being. As you read them and let the Spirit of God interpret them, the "face of Christ" comes clearer and clearer. That is how light comes into a darkened heart.
Are you walking in darkness? Well, then, begin to seek the "face of Christ." That is where the light shines. Not the Christ you hear about in all the popular presentations around us. There is nothing historic about the Jesus you meet in many of the presentations today. Oftentimes that is a false Christ. But in the Scriptures you have the authentic Jesus, and in the fellowship of the people of God the character and the love of Jesus come through. In moments of communion and prayer you see the "face of Christ." That is what turns off the darkness and brings the light into your life. You do not have to walk in darkness in this day and age when you can look at the "face of Christ," for there is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God" for all to see.
Lord, we thank you for the light that has come into our darkness. Blinded by the devil, convinced that we had what it took to handle life apart from you, sure that we had what it took to serve you even after we came, Lord, you have faithfully revealed to us that we are helpless victims apart from the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Help us to walk in that light, to glory in it and rejoice that One has loved us and come and has given himself for us that he might live in us to be Lord of our lives. We ask in his name, Amen.
v1: "This ministry", described in – ; the message of Christ, the calling of God, the liberty of the Spirit. Therefore we do not lose heart, for we know the value and importance of the message (1 Cor ). We have become partakers of the message, we have received mercy in Christ. Paul is also speaking of his personal experience here, since through all the struggles and trials, he did not lose heart, see v
v2: We have a responsibility to bring the message of Christ with lives of Christ-likeness, adorning the doctrine (1 Thess ). We have confidence in the power of the message to bring salvation; and our lives must be consistent with this message.
Therefore we do not need the hidden things of shame, craftiness, deceit. In , Paul refers to those who were peddling the word of God.
Paul set forth the truth plainly (or 'manifested'); this is the opposite of 'veiled'; Paul was willing for his life to be examined by others, he was sincere and honest, see Acts ; 1 Thess Further, all things of our lives are naked and open before God.
v Not all believe. But that is not necessarily the result of our weakness, nor of the defectiveness of the message; the god of this age, the devil, has blinded the minds of many. This is evidence of spiritual warfare. Paul has confidence in the power of the gospel as being sufficient to remove this blindness.
v5: Our message is 'Jesus Christ is Lord'. God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and we are simply the messengers, His servants bringing the message to others.
v6: God has commanded light, as in the creation, so in Christ the light shines. This light shines into our hearts, and is therefore a life-changing message. The message of God's glory shines in the face of Jesus Christ, through His becoming a real man. The gospel is indeed of the glory of Christ.
It is clear that the message is God's truth, and we have no command to alter the message for any reason.
v7: In contrast with the power of the message is the frailty of humanity; this is essential is putting our present trials into an eternal perspective, see Heb The excellence of the power of God is seen clearly in plain jars of clay (earthen vessels). In this way, the glory belongs only to God; and we must not seek that glory which is rightly His.
v Our life is full of trials, we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down; in all these things we share in the very sufferings of Christ; for He came in the likeness of man. As we are mistreated and endure suffering, the life of Jesus becomes more evident, and greater glory goes to Him.
We are not crushed, nor in despair, nor abandoned, nor destroyed, for Christ is faithful; His life is in us, and we have hope. However extreme our circumstances are, we are not crushed for we have hope. The clear expectation is that death itself is near, but His life shines through.
The hardships of life and the harshness of men remind us of our weakness, and of God's power.
v The Corinthians had apparently missed out on the suffering that others had endured, see 1 Cor Paul is not so much interested in how much suffering they are enduring, but rather that the life of Christ is demonstrated.
v We have a sure faith, even if our experiences are different. The outworking is personal testimony, and true quality of life.
v Our confidence in times of trial, that the Lord Jesus has been raised up, and we shall be raised up with Him. Physical hardship, however severe, is only temporary, see v We share this confidence with those whose suffering is much less than ours, and with those whose suffering is much greater than ours.
v Whatever we endure is for the blessing of others, and ultimately for the glory of God.
v With such confidence we do not lose heart; all physical things, even our human body, are perishing, wasting away, dying; but through all our experiences the inward man is being renewed. There is a constant growth in grace.
v The perspective of eternity; our light affliction, which is for a mere moment, is far outweighed by the glories to come, see 1 Pet We learn also that this world is passing away. Paul refers here to this present life, characterised by affliction; but this life is short compared with eternity.
This "light affliction" refers not just to illness, pain, persecution, but to disappointments, physical frailty, broken relationships, and much more.
v Spiritual things are eternal; what we see is only temporary, and will not last. Having understood that those things do not last, we learn not to set our hearts upon them. Equally, having learned that spiritual things are eternal, we do set our hearts on them. Like Moses, we see Him who is invisible, Heb Paul does not speak of some extra-human existence, but rather of the deeper reality that is in Christ.
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Second Corinthians 4 brings together themes that are closely related in Paul’s work—transparency, humility, weakness, leadership, and service. Because we are seeing Paul at work in a real-life situation, the themes are entangled as Paul tells the story. But we will try to discuss the themes one at a time in order to explore each one as clearly as possible.
Transparency and Humility (2 Corinthians 4)
In chapter 4 Paul returns to the theme of transparency, as we noted in our discussion of 2 Corinthians – This time he emphasizes the importance of humility for maintaining transparency. If we are going to let everyone see the reality of our life and work, we had better be prepared to be humbled.
Naturally, it would be much easier to be transparent with people if we had nothing to hide. Paul himself says, “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides” (2 Cor. ). But transparency requires that we remain open, even if we have engaged in conduct that is not commendable. For the truth is, we are all susceptible to errors of intention and execution. “We have this treasure in clay jars,” Paul reminds us (2 Cor. ), alluding to the typical household vessels of his day that were made of common clay and easily breakable. Anyone who visits the remains of the Ancient Near East can testify to the shards of these vessels lying scattered everywhere. Paul reinforces this idea later by recounting that God gave him a “thorn in the flesh” in order to restrain his pride (2 Cor. ).
Maintaining transparency when we know our own weaknesses requires humility and especially the willingness to offer a genuine apology. Many apologies by public figures sound more like thinly veiled justifications than actual apologies. This may be because, if we depend on ourselves as the source of our confidence, to apologize would be to risk our ability to carry on. Yet Paul’s confidence is not in his own rightness or ability, but in his dependence on the power of God. “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. ). If we too acknowledged that the good things we accomplish are not a reflection on us but on our Lord, then maybe we could have the courage to admit our mistakes and look to God to put us back on track again. At the very least, we could stop feeling that we have to maintain our image at all costs, including the cost of deceiving others.
Weakness as the Source of Strength (2 Corinthians 4)
Our weakness, however, is not just a challenge to our transparency. It is actually the source of our true abilities. Enduring suffering is not an unfortunate side effect experienced in some circumstances; it is the actual means of bringing about genuine accomplishment. Just as the power of Jesus’ resurrection came about because of his crucifixion, so the apostles’ fortitude in the midst of adversity testifies to the fact that the same power is at work in them.
In our culture, no less than in Corinth, we project strength and invincibility because we feel they are necessary to climb the ladder of success. We try to convince people that we are stronger, smarter, and more competent than we really are. Therefore, Paul’s message of vulnerability may sound challenging to us. Is it apparent in the way you go about your work that the strength and vitality you project is not your own, but rather God’s strength on display in your weakness? When you receive a compliment, do you allow it to add to your aura of brilliance? Or do you recount the ways God—perhaps working through other people—made it possible for you to exceed your native potential? We usually want people to perceive us as ultra-competent. But aren’t the people we admire most the ones who help other people bring their gifts to bear?
If we hold up under difficult circumstances without trying to conceal them, it will become apparent that we have a source of power outside of ourselves, the very power that effected Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Serving Others by Leading (2 Corinthians 4)
Humility and weakness would be unbearable if our purpose in life were to make something great of ourselves. But service, not greatness, is the Christian’s purpose. “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. ). This verse is one of the classic biblical statements of the concept that has come to be known as “servant leadership.” Paul, the foremost leader of the Christian movement beyond the confines of Palestine, calls himself “your slave for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. ).
Again, Paul seems to be reflecting on Jesus’ own teaching here (see 2 Cor. above). As leaders, Jesus and his followers served others. This fundamentally Christian insight should inform our attitude in any leadership position. This does not mean that we refrain from exercising legitimate authority or that we lead timidly. Rather, it implies that we use our position and our power to further others’ well-being and not only our own. In fact, Paul’s words “your slaves for Jesus’ sake” are stricter than they may at first appear. Leaders are called to seek other people’s wellbeing ahead of their own, as slaves are compelled to do. A slave, as Jesus pointed out, works all day in the fields, then comes in and serves dinner to the household, and only afterwards may eat and drink (Luke –10).
Leading others by serving will inevitably lead to suffering. The world is too broken for us to imagine there is a chance we may escape suffering while serving. Paul suffered affliction, perplexity, and persecution nearly to the point of death (2 Cor. –12). As Christians, we should not accept leadership positions unless we intend to sacrifice the privilege of taking care of ourselves before taking care of others.
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Suffering for The Gospel
- What treasure is Paul referring to in verse 7?
- How can the ministry of the New Covenant be stored in a jar of clay? Is it an actual jar or something else?
- Why does Paul compare their own earthly bodies to jars of clay?
- How were they afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down?
- What point is Paul making in verses ?
- How could they endure through these difficulties?
- Have you faced any of these challenges?
- Share a testimony of how God sustained you through difficulty.
- What does Paul mean that they are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus?
- How could the life of Jesus be manifest through them?
- In what ways were Paul and his team being given over to death? How is this for Jesus sake?
- How can you manifest the life of Jesus in your flesh?
- Why did Paul say, death is at work in us, but life in you? Does Paul want their praise or gratitude? Is he seeking personal recognition?
- How can you die that others may live?
Matthew The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
2 Timothy Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
1 Peter Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christs sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Romans Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Galatians I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Luke And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
John Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Romans I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
1. We have this treasure This treasure refers to the gospel, the new covenant of which they were ministers. Jesus described this treasure as the pearl of great price, a treasure so valuable that a person would be willing to sell everything he had in order to obtain it.
Salvation is the greatest treasure we have. And it is our job as ministers of this new covenant, to pass it on to others so that they can have it like we do.
Application: Do you treasure the gospel? Do you treasure Jesus? How does a person treat something he treasures? If we treasure Jesus, how will we treat our relationship to Him?
2. In jars of clay Here Paul gives a surprising illustration. One would expect that a treasure should be stored in something beautiful, something valuable which will reflect the worth of what is inside. Treasure boxes themselves are often ornate. And treasure boxes are often very durable in order to preserve the riches within.
But here, Paul says that this treasure is kept in jars of clay. A clay jar is not durable. And its not valuable. It is the cheapest storage container you can get. And beyond this clay jars were often used to store trash or refuse.
It would be extremely odd and unexpected if a person chose to store valuable jewels or gold in a clay jar. The clay jar would seem to be inadequate.
Reflect: What is the clay jar in this illustration?
It refers to the lives/bodies of Paul and his team. In other words, they are weak. They dont do justice to the gospel they are ministering for. They are inadequate for the task.
2 Corinthians And who is adequate for such a task as this?
And that is the whole point. There is no person who is sufficient for this task. Paul and his team looked weak. They were beaten and whipped. Thrown out of most towns they went to, they were often on the run. Sometimes they were in prison. Many were not the richest or the brightest.
But God chose to use them. Why? The answer is in the second part of verse 7.
3. To show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us God could have chosen any method and any people to spread the gospel. But He chose people. Many of the people He chose are just common people. And to the world they look weak. A fruitful missionary is not the worlds prototype of success. Neither was Paul.
As we will see in the following verses, Paul was weak in the eyes of many in the world. He wasnt successful as the world defines success. The disciples also were mostly fishermen and peasants.
This was no mistake. It was no coincidence. God intentionally used normal people as vessels to spread the gospel to show that it is His power which saves (Romans ) and not ours. It is not wealth, status, worldly logic, or arguments which save. As we saw in verses , it is the light of Christ. He changes hearts. Because it is all Him, He gets all the glory.
A clay jar holding the most expensive diamond in the world would only serve to be a contrast of the common with the exquisite. When a person saw the diamond being drawn out of the jar they would gasp with surprise at the beauty being stored in such a cheap container. All of their focus would be on the beauty of the diamond and not on the container. That is the way it is with the gospel.
Reflect: How can we encourage people to focus on the gospel, Jesus, and the word and not us?
Application: As ministers of the new covenant our job is to draw attention to Jesus, not to ourselves. We want to help people behold the beauty of Christ. We want to glorify Him and not get credit for ourselves. John the Baptist understood this when he said, he must increase and I must decrease. (John )
When people praise you, give God the glory. Do that not just with a cliché like a muttered praise God while we soak in the glory. No, our entire mindset should be that we are humble servants drawing attention to Jesus. We should minister in such a way as to not get recognition for ourselves. How might some preachers seek recognition?
Reflect: What are some specific ways you can deflect praise from yourself to God?
4. Verses Paul describes some of their weaknesses and difficulties. But each of these four metaphors show us that no matter how many challenges ministers of the gospel go through, God will give them strength to get through and still reach people for Christ.
By itself a clay jar is weak. You would think that at the first heavy impact it would be shattered. And that is true of actual clay jars. But for evangelists the impacts do not shatter them. God gives supernatural and sustaining strength. A person who depends on his own strength would be shattered by these things, but they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.
Romans Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Believers can be overwhelming conquerors in the face of all these things through him who loved us.
Share: Share a testimony of how God sustained you through difficulty.
Application: Know that God will give you the victory when you face suffering and persecution. He will not abandon you. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. He will not let you be crushed. He will not let you be driven to despair. He will not forsake you. But I believe these are conditional upon you continuing to fix your eyes on Jesus and trust come to Him for strength and comfort. If you fall away in faithlessness these things no longer hold true. So fix your eyes on Jesus and know with certainty that He will be beside you each step of the way.
5. Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus Paul has been speaking in metaphors again and again and this is another one. It means that Paul and his team as ministers of the new covenant are facing the same types of attacks that Jesus did, which resulted in His death. It refers to the persecution that genuine believers face when they tell people about Jesus.
John “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
People endlessly attacked Paul and the other disciples because they were followers of Jesus. Just as the world hated Jesus so they hated His followers who continued in His teachings.
Application: Expect persecution. Do not be surprised when the world hates you. Neither should you respond in kind to their rhetoric. The world is full of professing believers who aggressively defend themselves and return insult for insult with the world that hates them. That is not what Jesus called us to do. He called us to love our neighbors. We should give a blessing instead and overcome evil with good.
6. So that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies When believers respond to persecution with humility, love, and grace Christ shines through. All the vehement arguments in the world will not change hearts. Neither does retaliation exalt our Lord who did not retaliate.
The life of Jesus is manifest when we respond to unfair treatment how He wants us to respond.
Reflect: How does this manifest the life of Jesus?
When we follow Jesus model, then we point to Jesus life. We show through action what Jesus is like. And that light attracts people to Him.
7. We who live are always being given over to death There are few such powerful testimonies as saints who are martyred responding with peace, hope, and love. Stephens request for God to forgive his murders was a strong witness for the Lord.
Many other martyrs throughout history have witnessed for the Lord even in death including John Huss and William Tyndale.
Huss last words Huss was about to burned at the stake as a heretic. His executioner asked him to recant. He answered, God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.
And his last words, Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!
Tyndales was strangled and then burned at the stake. His last words were Lord! Open the King of Englands eyes.
8. Death is at work in us, but life in you When Paul and his fellow evangelists faced persecution and death it was to bring life to those whom they served. They could have remained silent and gained their own lives. But it would have meant spiritual and eternal death to others who would have no chance to hear the word. Or they could open their mouths and share and incur the wrath of this world and for many finally martyrdom. And in facing physical death, they helped bring spiritual and eternal life to others who heard the gospel and believed.
Application: Many times we have to choose between convenience and serving God. It might be more comfortable if we remain silent. Perhaps we will be more popular. Sometimes speaking the truth and standing on Gods word may be costly. It could cost us our jobs, friends, promotions, freedom, or even death. But the cost is worth it when compared to the eternal life we are sharing.
2 CorinthiansSours: https://studyandobey.com/inductive-bible-study/2-corinthians/2-corinthians/
4 2 study corinthians
5. Treasures in Clay Pots (2 Corinthians )
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Ministry by God's Mercy ()
He begins by identifying the source of his ministry: God's mercy.
"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." ()
It is possible for God's servants to "lose heart" (NIV) or "faint" (KJV). The word is ekkake, "to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted, lose heart."� I've been there, and perhaps you have too. Paul himself had experienced those feelings, as we'll see later in this lesson (). One reason he can recover from hurt and discouragement, however, is his sincerity of motive. He is doing what God called him to do and knows it "� "through God's mercy we have this ministry!"�
A Plain and Open Ministry ()
There's a saying in sports, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."� People who play only to win will do anything to win "� especially if they don't think they'll get caught. The end, however, doesn't justify the means. Paul is clear about his ministry ethics:
"We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." ()
I was once in a congregation where I sometimes served the "catcher" when people were "slain in the Spirit," that is, they collapsed to the floor under the presence of God. I often saw the real power of God, but once I observed a guest speaker who was giving people a gentle push to help them fall so that his ministry might appear more effective. I've seen pastors and evangelists manipulate people. I've seen leaders say the most misleading, ingenuous, vicious, and utterly false things "� all to achieve their goals, to win. No! This is not what we're called to do!
Paul sets the example for us. He has "renounced" (NIV, KJV), that is, "refused to practice" (NRSV) various kinds of behavior that characterize his opponents:
- "Shameful"� (NIV, NRSV), "dishonest," (KJV) is aischyn, "a sensitivity respecting possibility of dishonor, modesty, shame," here, "what one conceals from a feeling of shame."�
- "Deception"� (NIV), "cunning" (NRSV), "craftiness" (KJV) is panourgia, "rascally, evil" "cunning, craftiness, trickery," literally, "readiness to do anything."�
- "Distort"� (NIV), "falsify" (NRSV), "handle deceitfully" (KJV) is dolo, generally, "to beguile by craft," then, "to make false through deception or distortion, falsify, adulterate."�
In contrast, Paul ministers by clear, open, honest communication. He doesn't have to trick people into a response. He trusts the Holy Spirit to speak to their consciences. After all, to convict and convince is the Holy Spirit's ministry, not ours (John ).
Dear friend, if you've been sleazy in your ministry, repent now! You serve a God who is far bigger than your smallness! If you've been hurt by a leader's sins, don't let it fester any longer. Put it into God's hands and move on. Life is too short to let Satan immobilize you by someone else's shameful example. God has plans for you!
Q1. (2 Corinthians ) How do questionable ethics and ministry practices hurt the work of Christ? What is Paul's alternative in verse 2b?
Satan Has Blinded Unbelievers ()
After all, our ministry is not about human manipulation. Rather, it is a spiritual ministry by the Holy Spirit that appeals to the inner person. That doesn't mean, however, that all respond. Paul picks up on his previous comments about the veil over Moses' face and over the unbelieving Jews' eyes ():
"3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." ()
For the past year and a half, verse 4 has burned in my heart. Currently, I'm serving as interim pastor in a small town known for its rampant New Age inclusiveness "� occult practices, Tarot readings held in a coffee shop across the street from a church, open marijuana use, statues of the Hindu god Shiva displayed in many shop windows, worship of ancient gods and goddesses, and an annual psychic festival! For our congregation to bear spiritual fruit in this community, the answer isn't to just shout louder. Victory will come only through learning to pray more powerfully. This is the spiritual warfare that Paul talked about in the great, but demon-ridden, cities where he ministered:
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians )
Spiritual struggle isn't limited to my city "� it just seems concentrated there. It exists in cities and towns around the world "� and even where you live. But it has certainly got my attention.
Look at these verses with me.
The subject is lost people, "unbelievers" (verse 4), "those who are perishing" (verse 3). "Perishing" (NIV, NRSV), "lost" (KJV) is apollymi, a present middle/passive participle, indicating an ongoing condition. The verb means, "perish, be ruined, die," especially of eternal death. Perishing / lost means that men and women, boys and girls are in the process of spiritual death "� forever and ever. This is a life and death struggle we're engaged in for the souls of mankind. The stakes couldn't be higher!
The culprit is "the god of this age,"� that is, the false god worshipped by the world around us "� Satan. Jesus called him "the prince of this world" (John ; ). Paul called him, "the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" (Ephesians ). He currently exercises his power is this world (1 John ; Revelation ). He is a deceiver, "a liar and the father of lies" (John ). People don't realize that they are obeying Satan and worshipping him (Ephesians ); they're just going with the flow of society. A true Satanist is rare, even in California where I live. But even though people are deceived by Satan, that doesn't mean that they won't reap the bitter fruits of their deception. This is no game; this is real life.
It is important, however, to realize that Satan does not have a right to this world! He is a usurper, seeking to encroach on God's property.
"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it." (Psalm )
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John ).
Satan's strategy is deception, blinding man's mind. Blinding means "to deprive of sight."� People think they see clearly, but "they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (). They don't get it. Their minds seem veiled. They can't comprehend the gospel. It doesn't make sense to them. Instead of seeing in the gospel "the glory of Christ," it seems to them like a mere fairy tale. They have no sense of the awfulness of sin, of the judgment upon their lives, or of their own desperate situation. They have no sense of holiness, of God's love, or of Christ's humbling himself to take upon himself the sin of the world. They parody the gospel. They make fun of people who fear God.
They can't see it. Why? Two factors, I believe:
- Blinding by Satan and
- Deliberate refusal to believe."
People aren't just dupes of Satan. They bear responsibility for their guilt. Paul says of the end time:
"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved." (2 Thessalonians )
They refused to grasp, receive, take hold of the truth they do have. As a result, they are dead meat. They are not innocent unbelievers, but culpable and responsible for the truth they have heard.
The counterinsurgency strategy. What should we do in the face of this deceptive, spiritual blindness that is maintained over lost mankind by the evil one? We do what Paul did:
- We fight with prayer and spiritual weapons (Ephesians ). We undergird a ministry of evangelism with earnest prayer and intercession.
- We are open and honest in our own communication (), not deceptive or manipulative. We're not going to "save" people, even if we can "get" them to pray the sinner's prayer. This is God's work.
- We declare the good news of Jesus Christ with clarity and his death for our sins "� even if it is met with disdain (1 Corinthians ). We fight falsehood with truth: the "belt of truth" and "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians , 17). There is spiritual power in the gospel for those who are being saved! Paul said,
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Romans )
- We love our unsaved friends with the degree of intensity that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John ). I've heard hateful, blaming street-corner sermons that only serve to turn people away, rather than communicate "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." ()
Nobody said ministry is easy, friends. To minister to the lost is to engage in the spiritual battle as a determined participant, rather than a bystander "� or worse, a spiritually blinded and neutralized believer.
We've spent a lot of time on verse 3 and 4, but they contain an important key to understanding the lay of the spiritual land.
Q2. (2 Corinthians ) Since Satan has blinded people's eyes to the truth, is there any hope for them? What strategies must we use to overcome spiritual blindness? How many people are likely to find Christ without intercessory prayer?
Christ, the Glory of God ()
"5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." ()
This isn't about us, says Paul. We point to Christ. We are only your servants for Jesus' sake, that is, out of our love for Jesus and his mission. It is God's sovereign work to bring spiritual enlightenment, to make the message clear to people's blinded minds. It is an act of creation of the God who spoke his creative word: "Let light shine out of darkness" (Genesis , 14). But it is our job to declare it.
Treasure in Clay Jars ()
Now Paul talks about the reality of ministry. We bear the precious and awesome "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (), but we are just weak, human vessels, subject to imperfection and breakage. It's a paradox. Paul says,
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." ()
Again "� this is not about us! "Jars of clay" (NIV, cf. NRSV) or "earthen vessels" (KJV, RSV) are pottery containers. The verse contains four key words that I'd like to highlight.
The first word is ostrakinos, "made of earth/clay."� You probably have a few kiln-fired flower pots at your house. The least expensive ones are made of red clay, formed and fired. The best have a colorful glaze on the surface that bring beauty. But when you look at the bottom of a glazed pot you can see that it is still just clay "� nothing exotic. Archaeological digs have found many, many thousands of pieces of broken pottery. Pottery vessels are useful for a while, but have a limited working life. Then they fail, crack, break, and ultimately dissolve.
The second word is skeuos, "vessel, jar, dish, a container of any kind," then figuratively, "a human being exercising a function, instrument, vessel."� Again: The focus shouldn't be on about. We're just the container. The focus should be on the contents: "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (), the "all-surpassing power" of God at work within us (Ephesians ).
A third word describes the contents, hyperbol, "all-surpassing"� (NIV), "extraordinary" (NRSV), "excellency" (KJV), which we see also in ; ; and will examine later in this lesson at It means, "a state of exceeding to an extraordinary degree a point on a scale of extent, excess, extraordinary quality/character."�
A fourth word names the contents, dynamis, "power."�
No, it's not about us.
"We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." ()
This is about Christ, his love, and his power! Have you ever felt weak, powerless in yourself. I'm sure that Paul did, too. But the One who indwelt Paul "� and now, you "� is not weak and powerless. You are a limited vessel. He is the unlimited contents of that vessel poured out to quench the spiritual thirst of lost humankind. It's not about you! It's about him!
Q3. (2 Corinthians ) What truth is Paul seeking to communicate by this analogy of a treasure in a pottery jar? What does the clay jar represent? What does the treasure represent? What's the paradox here?
Pressures on Every Side ()
Now Paul talks about some of the pressures of the Christian life and ministry. He has alluded to them before () and will speak more about them later (). He says,
"8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." ()
In this sentence, Paul lays out four pairs of words "� first, the difficulty the "clay" faces, then second, the hope the "treasure" affords.
Word Pair 1. Pressure
"Hard pressed"� (NIV), "afflicted" (NRSV), "troubled" (KJV), not just in one area at a time but "on every side." There are multiple pressures. The verb is thlib, which has the basic idea of "to press, compress, make narrow." Here it is used figuratively, "to cause to be troubled, oppress, afflict."� Have you ever had a sinus headache, when your head seemed to be in a vise? This is a spiritual headache "� from multiple sources!
"But not crushed"� (NIV, NRSV), "not distressed" (KJV) is the negative particle plus stenochre. The verb means basically, "to confine or restrict to a narrow space, crowd, cramp, confine, restrict." Figuratively, it means, "to be in a circumstance that seems to offer no way out, be distressed."� Yes, you are under pressure, says Paul, but you have a way out "� you aren't restricted to only that narrow space. You find freedom in God!
Word Pair 2. Confusion
"Perplexed"� is apore. It has the basic meaning, especially found in ancient Greek papyrus documents, of "to be without resources." From this evolved the meaning, "to be in a confused state of mind, be at a loss, be in doubt, be uncertain."� You can identify with that! You wonder: What in the world is going on?
"Not in despair"� (NIV, KJV), "not driven to despair" (NRSV). The verb is exapore, a compound word from the root of apore, the first word in the pair. The preposition ex- compounded to this verb adds the idea of "entirely, utterly"� to the original verb: "to be utterly at a loss, be utterly destitute of measures or resources, to renounce all hope, be in despair."�
Yes, Paul was confused at times "� perplexed, at a loss for what to do. But he found God's help in it so that he wasn't without someone to turn to.
Word Pair 3. Persecuted
"Persecuted"� is dik. Literally, it means, "to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away." But most of the time in the New Testament, it means, "to harass someone," especially because of beliefs, "trouble, molest, persecute."� In ancient Greek papyrus documents it sometimes means, "to accuse."�
"Abandoned"� (NIV), "forsaken" (NRSV, KJV) is enkataleip, "to separate connection with someone or something, forsake, abandon, desert."� We have God's promise: "I will never leave you or forsake (enkataleip) you" (Hebrews , NRSV, quoting Deuteronomy ).
Sometimes we feel alone, but we are not. Jesus said to us disciples, "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew ).
Word Pair 4. Struck Down
"Struck down"� (NIV, NRSV), "cast down" (KJV) is kataball, "to strike with sufficient force so as to knock down, throw down, strike down."� It probably happened to Paul literally, considering all the physical violence directed his way (). But in its figurative sense, this happens to us a lot. We "get the wind knocked out of our sails." We "take a hit" that "throws us for a loop." We have devastating circumstances that we don't bounce back from right away. We think that we can never endure this! Paul felt that way:
"We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." ()
"Not destroyed" is apollymi, "destroyed," here in the passive voice, "perish, be ruined." We saw this same word in and earlier in this lesson at in the sense of eternal destruction. But here, Paul is probably talking more in physical and psychological terms.
The Message paraphrase renders these word pairs in the vernacular:
"We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized;
we're not sure what to do, 9 but we know that God knows what to do;
we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side;
we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken."�
In the natural order, we'd be wiped out by all this conflict and pressure, threat and blows. But we are not to be incapacitated. Jesus said:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John )
Death in Us, Life in You ()
Everyone in the world is seeking to be happy. It's natural to avoid pain and suffering at all costs. But paradoxically, that can be a deceptive path. The saying, "No pain, no gain," applies to physical exercise, but also to spiritual growth and to serving God. In the verses that follow, Paul shares this unique "� and unpopular "� insight.
"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." ()
Everyone "� even sinners "� experiences problems. Christians too. But they also share in Christ's sufferings, especially when we take righteous actions that expose others' sin and selfishness. Paul told Timothy:
"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy )
Jesus told his disciples:
"No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." (John )
Given the fact of suffering, it's instructive to see how Christ can use it to work out his purposes.
"10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." ()
When we are exposed to struggle, stress, and pain, our inner self is exposed. People can see us for what we are. If we're sniveling cowards, that will become obvious. If we exhibit God's grace under pressure, people will see that as well. When we suffer, people can see Jesus' work within us and will be attracted to the authenticity they see. That's why Paul talks about his weaknesses and sufferings so much. His opponents at Corinth, the so-called "super-apostles" (; ), boasted without cause and had never suffered for Christ.
Paul knew that his sufferings revealed Christ's reality to others. So he was able to be transparent and real. Christ's life "may be revealed in our mortal body," if we are surrendered to him. We experience problems, but others are blessed by seeing God's grace in action in our lives.
Trouble has a way of cracking the earthenware pot, but that just allows others to see the glory of the treasure that lies within ().
Q4. (2 Corinthians ) How does it encourage you to know that Paul went through tremendous stress and pressure? What effect did these sufferings have on the way people could see Christ in Paul? Why is pain necessary to spiritual growth? How does our pain allow others to assess our authenticity as Christians?
Faith in the Resurrection ()
Now Paul refers to a passage that recounts the words of a suffering psalmist:
"It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.'" (a)
Paul claims the same kind of wisdom that arises from faith that has suffered yet prevailed:
"13b With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence." (b)
Faith considers the long view. Life is more than present happiness. A life well-lived in Christ, no matter how much pain has been endured, will be rewarded in resurrection at Christ's coming. Pain is only temporary. Christ wins!
Outer Deterioration, Inner Renewal ()
Pain can tempt us to get discouraged, to lose heart "� the words with which Paul began this chapter (). Perspective helps:
"15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." ()
Paul outlines two reasons not to lose heart in suffering:
- Others benefit from our suffering. Selfish people don't care if others benefit from their suffering. They're just plain miserable. But Paul looks to what will benefit the Corinthians the most. As a result of seeing others benefit, Paul doesn't lose heart.
- We benefit from our own suffering. Look at verse 16 once more.
"Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (b)
Wasting Away. If we live long enough "� or go through enough persecution "� our bodies gradually develop chronic problems. Our joints and organs begin to wear out. Our eyesight and hearing dim. "Outwardly" (literally, in "our outer man"�) we're breaking down. "Wasting away" (NIV, NRSV), "perish" (KJV) is the verb diaphtheir in the present tense, which indicates continuous ongoing action. The word means, "to cause the destruction of something, spoil, destroy," and is used to describe the action of rust and of food spoiling, as well as the ongoing physical deterioration suggested in this passage.
Being Renewed. At the same time, "inwardly" (literally, in "our inner man"�) we are being "renewed." Anakaino, properly means, "to cause to grow up (ana-) new, to make new."� We see the same word in Colossians:
"[You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." (Colossians )
This is an ongoing process. It happens "day by day," a little bit at a time. Your body gradually loses vigor, but at the same time, in Christ, you gain in vigor and power and faith. This, dear friends, is simply another way of describing the process of sanctification.
Focusing on Eternal Glory ()
Paul concludes this section with a pair of marvelous promises and insights.
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (, NIV)
If you've just gone through some terrible experience and the pain is fresh, you may be offended by Paul's description of "light and momentary troubles." That may seem too callous. But Paul is speaking in comparative terms. The NRSV is a bit more literal so you can see the contrasts:
"For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure." (, NRSV)
- Light/slight affliction vs. weight of glory
- Momentary vs. eternal.
Nor are these just equal pairs. The long-term glory exceeds the momentary light trouble by so much that the comparison is trivial "� beyond all measure!
Fix Your Eyes on the Eternal ()
If we just look at our present troubles, we fall into despair. We must see our current problems in the light of our glorious inheritance in heaven. This is the secret of ever-increasing faith!
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." ()
This phrase "fix our eyes" (NIV), "look at" (NRSV, KJV) is skope (from which we get our English word "scope"�), "to pay careful attention to, look (out) for, notice someone or something."� Paul is recommending thought control, selective attention. Don't be discouraged by the problems you can see in this physical world. They are "temporary" (NIV, NRSV) or "temporal" (KJV), lasting only for a time.
The world usually operates on a very time-bound point-of-view, a human perspective that can be skewed and mistaken (). Its philosophy: Live every moment to the fullest now. Grab the gusto now; you only pass this way once. You don't have tomorrow; you only have today. Carpe diem ("seize the day"�). But though this may get you to take some action, since it lacks perspective, the action you choose may be the wrong one. Paul suggests, rather, live your lives now with an awareness of eternity. View your troubles with an awareness of heaven to come.
Dear friend, even if you have been enduring a very heavy burden for what seems to be a very long time, in view of eternity this will be just a split second and light as a feather when compared to the weightiness of the riches God will bestow upon you in his Presence.
Q5. (2 Corinthians ) In what way do problems and physical deterioration help us toward "an eternal weight of glory"�? Why is it so easy to focus on temporal matters to the exclusion of eternal things? Why is a focus on eternal things so important to our spiritual growth? What can we do to help shift our focus?
Father, so often I see things from a human point of view. I don't see the big picture, so I'm overwhelmed by today's gritty details. Please broaden my faith and my perspective. Teach me to fix my eyes on what is important and lasting, not on what is trivial and fleeting. Help me, O God, to see things as you see them, and so transcend my time-bound world to live in Christ in heavenly places. In Jesus' name, I plead. Amen.
This week's lesson has a number of memorable verses!
"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians )
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians )
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians )
"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2 Corinthians )
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians )
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians )
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians )
2 Corinthians Bible Study
Copyright © , Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
2 Corinthians chapter 4
1 Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.' Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with Gods word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyones conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake. 6 For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, I believed, and so I spoke, we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; 2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. 5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13 We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14 Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in trickery nor distorting the word of God, but by the open proclamation of the truth commending ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants on account of Jesus. 6 For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being handed over to death because of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.
13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written: 'I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,' we also believe, therefore we also speak, 14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, so that grace, having spread to more and more people, will cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
1 Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don't try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
3 If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
5 You see, we don't go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.
13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, 'I believed in God, so I spoke.' 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God's grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. 2 Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone's conscience by an open display of the truth. 3 But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus's sake. 6 For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God's glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus's sake, so that Jesus's life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak. 14 For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you. 15 Indeed, everything is for your benefit so that, as grace extends through more and more people, it may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
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This is the most living medicine that you can think of. Come on quickly to the chair. - How on the chair.